The story of the S76


In 1911, eager for more prestige, Fiat brought out a racing car, specifically designed to break speed records, which they thought would be unbeatable. This was not so much a car as an engine with wheels. Nicknamed 'The Beast of Turin' the engine took up most of the nine feet length of the car with a tiny cockpit to hold to a driver and co-driver tacked on the back, as if by an afterthought.

The engine capacity was a massive 17.3 litres and was so huge it had to be started by compressed air. Each of the four cylinders were so massive that they needed three spark plugs each. Two exhaust pipes came out of the side of the engine merging into a huge single one which spat fire and smoke out to the side. The engine note sounded like the coming of the day of judgement. Beast this car certainly was.

Driving it was not particularly easy. The engine was so massive that no driver shorter than a giant could see over the top of it so it was usually necessary to lean out and look along the side of it! Fortunately it was usually raced around steeply banked curves otherwise corners would probably have been fatal to it's chances of success. What it handled and steered like has never really been recorded but it must have been heavy and unresponsive, requiring as much bravery as skill in the driver.

Several racing drivers were courageous (or should that read crazy?) enough to drive it and these included such stars of the day as Antonia Fagnano, Pietro Bordino and Felice Nazzaro who between them came first in several European Grand Prix.

How fast was it? There was no recognised standard in those days for establishing speed records. However on a test at Long Island, New York, it was claimed that The Beast was capable of covering a mile at a speed of around 180 mph. Whether this was accurate or not it was an amazing speed for the first decade of the 20th century.

It appears that only two completed S76s were ever built and these were never sold to private individuals, being just used for racing and record-breaking by the official Fiat racing team. It was rumoured however that another engine had been produced and this powered an airship. An amazing engine indeed.

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